Edward Teller and the Hydrogen Bomb

Edward Teller and his team built the "super" hydrogen bomb

Edward Teller
Edward Teller. Courtesy Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

 

"What we should have learned is that the world is small, that peace is important and that cooperation in science ... could contribute to peace. Nuclear weapons, in a peaceful world, will have a limited importance." -- Edward Teller in "CNN" interview

Significance of Edward Teller

Theoretical physicist Edward Teller -- often referred to as the "Father of the H-Bomb" -- was part of a group of scientists who invented the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project.

He was the co-founder of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where together with Ernest Lawrence, Luis Alvarez and others he invented the hydrogen bomb in 1951. Teller contributed most of the 1960s to keeping the United States ahead of the Soviet Union in the nuclear arms race.

Teller's Education and Contributions

Teller was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1908. He earned a degree in chemical engineering at the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany, and received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Leipzig in Germany. His doctoral thesis was on the hydrogen molecular ion, the foundation for the theory of molecular orbitals that remains accepted to this day. Although his early training was in chemical physics and spectroscopy, Teller made substantial contributions to diverse fields such as nuclear physics, plasma physics, astrophysics and statistical mechanics.

The Atomic Bomb

It was Edward Teller who drove Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner to meet with Albert Einstein, who together would write a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to pursue atomic weapons research before the Nazis did.

Teller worked on the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and later became the lab's assistant director. This led to the invention of the atomic bomb in 1945.

The Hydrogen Bomb

In 1951, while still at Los Alamos, Teller had the idea for a thermonuclear weapon. Teller was more determined than ever to push for its development after the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949, and he indeed led the successful development and testing of the first hydrogen bomb.

In 1952, Ernest Lawrence and Teller opened the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he was the associate director from 1954 to 1958 and 1960 to 1965. He was its director from 1958 to 1960. For the next 50 years, Teller did his research at the Livermore National Laboratory, and between 1956 and 1960, he proposed and developed the development of thermonuclear warheads small and light enough to be carried on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Awards

Edward Teller published more than a dozen books on subjects ranging from energy policy to defense issues and has been awarded 23 honorary degrees. He received numerous awards for his contributions to physics and public life. Two months before his death in 2003, Edward Teller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civil honor -- during a special ceremony conducted by President George W. Bush at the White House.